Buddha, The Sensible Rationalist!

Written by January 26, 2011 3:58 pm 42 comments

This is the 7th and concluding part of Dr. Kamath’s series on Heretics, Rebels, Reformers and Revolutionaries. Links to all articles in this series can be found here. Dr. Kamath’s previous series on The Truth About The Bhagavad Gita can be found here.

The seventh and the last Samurai in our series, who revolted against Brahmanism, was Siddhartha Gautama, a prince of the Sakhya clan of Kapilavastu, a small kingdom at the foothills of the Himalayas. He is arguably the greatest Indian ever, and one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the world. Most of what we know of him comes to us from various Buddhist literature, memorized, and orally transmitted from generation to generation, and finally written down nearly four hundred years after his death in 483 B. C. Even though he was certainly a historical figure, most supernatural events, and irrational beliefs attributed to him must certainly be due to embellishment by overenthusiastic later adherents of Buddhism. Most of the initial converts were Brahmins, who brought with them their Brahmanic baggage. I am certain that the Buddha, a rationalist to boot, would have a hearty laugh at most mindless rituals practiced by various Buddhist sects around the world. There is no dearth of hypocrites, impostors and opportunists in this world.

The Buddha Was Way Ahead Of His Time

Siddhartha Gautama was perhaps over three thousand years ahead of his time. He was the product of the post-Vedic ‘Age of Disillusionment”. During the period of 1000-200 B. C. intellectuals of India were uniformly disgusted by the twin scourges of decadent Brahmanism: Rampant animal sacrifices sponsored by kings and officiated by Brahmins; and inequities associated with Varna Dharma -the class system based on the theory of unequal distribution of the Gunas of Prakriti and Karma (comeuppance) from one’s previous lives. Upanishadism, Jainism, and a host of other heterodox sects across the board, which preceded Buddhism, considered the world as a miserable place to live, thanks to Brahmanism. They were all busy trying to discover a sensible method for the FINAL EXIT from it. All these were like a bunch of cooks who were frantically looking for the nearest exit from a kitchen on fire.

Upanishadism And Buddhism

There is no evidence that the Buddha studied the anti-Brahmanic Upanishadic doctrines of Brahman/Atman and Yoga before arriving at his Four Noble Truths and Eight-fold Noble Path. The Buddha did not believe in Brahman/Atman concept. However, meditation proposed by him was nothing but secular form of Yoga, which later on found its way into the Upanishadic Gita as Buddhiyoga (2:48-53). Even though the Upanishadic doctrines were not available to the general public during this time (6th century B. C.) due to them being hidden by Brahmins as Shruthis, it is possible that intellectuals of north India had some idea as to what their theories were for the problem of Dukkha (sorrow) here on earth and Samsara (unending cycle of birth and death) hereafter.

We should remember here that the Upanishads considered decadent Brahmanism as the cause of three miseries: Shokam (grief), Dwandwam (restlessness and stress) and Karmaphalam (leading to Samsara). Their goal was to dismantle the very foundation of Brahmanism, namely the Gunas of Prakriti and the Law of Karma; and to knock down its four pillars: The Vedas, Varna Dharma, Yajnas and supremacy of Brahmins. These were also the very goals of the Buddha, and he succeeded in doing so for a thousand years, thanks to Ashoka the Great (ruled 272-232 B. C.) who made Buddhism a World Religion. It will be of interest to us here that when Upanishadists took over Arjuna Vishada (the Original Gita), around 200 B. C. they incorporated many of Buddha’s teachings into it.

Buddha Decries Animal Sacrifices

In accordance with his doctrine of infinite compassion for he suffering of all living creatures, the Buddha revolted against animal sacrifices, which had corrupted Yajnas due to greed of Brahmins:

Suttanipata: 2:7:23-26: But largesse (of the king) fired their (Brahmins’) passions more to get; their craving grew. Once more they sought Okkāka; with these verses newly framed: “As earth and water, gold and silver, so are cows a primal requisite of man. Great store, great wealth is thine; make (cow) sacrifice!

Then the king, the lord of chariots, persuaded by these Brāhmins, killed hundreds of thousands of cows in sacrifice. Cows sweet as lamb, filling pails with milk, never hurting anyone with foot or horn -the king had them seized by the horns and slaughtered by the sword.”

The Buddha expresses his horror:

Suttanipata: 2:7:27-30: Then the gods, the Pitrus (ancestral spirits), Indra, the Asuras, the Rakshasas cried out as the weapon fell on the cows, “Lo! This is injustice!” Of old there were only three diseases -desire, want of food, and decay. Owing to the killing of the cattle, there sprang ninety-eight diseases. This old sin of injury to living beings has come down (to this day). Innocent cows are killed. Priests have fallen off their virtues.

“This is how,” The Buddha concluded, “Kshatriyas and self-styled Brāhmins and others protected by rank destroyed the repute of their caste and fell prey to desires.”

The Buddha Tells Kshatriyas Not To Waste Money On Yajnas

Kutadanta Sutta describes a parable told by the Buddha to a Brahmin who wanted to perform a big sacrifice. In this parable, a king by the name of Mahavijita decides to perform a great sacrifice, “that would be to my benefit and happiness for a long time.” Recognizing the fact that the additional taxation required for this ostentatious Yajna would ruin people and the country, his wise minister, a capitalist to boot, tells the king instead to invest that money to, “get rid of the thieves and robbers plaguing the country; distribute grain and fodder to peasants; give capital to businessmen; and pay government servants proper wages.” This quintessential minister concludes, “Then those people, being intent on their own occupations, will not harm the kingdom; your majesty’s revenues will be great; the land will be tranquil, and not beset by thieves; and the people, with joy in their hearts, playing with their children, will dwell in open houses.” Thus enlightened, the king followed his minister’s advice and consequently his kingdom prospered. This advice is valid for Indian government to this very day.pn-golden-buddha-painting-ijbg

Ashoka the Great followed this example and acted selflessly for the welfare of all people in his kingdom. Whereas Brahmins used his negative image (of a fallen and renegade Kshatriya who abandoned Brahmanism and embraced Buddhism) to describe a pathetic Arjuna contemplating abandoning his Dharma in Arjuna Vishada, (the Original Gita, 1:28-47), Upanishadists used his positive image of an enlightened and energetic king who worked incessantly for the welfare of all people as their model of Karmayogi (3:20).

The Buddha Opposes Varna Dharma

In defiance of Brahmanism, which considered Brahmins as gift of Brahman (BG: 17:23), the Buddha advocated equality of all people. Like Upanishadists before him, he said that a man’s character, and not his class of birth, should determine his status in life. Assallayana Sutta describes an incident in which Brahmins prompt a brilliant and erudite young Brahmin to debate the Buddha regarding Varna Dharma. The boy tells the Buddha to disprove the fact that Brahmins were superior to all other classes and true heirs to Brahman. The Buddha engages this boy in a thought-provoking debate, and in a stepwise manner debunks his claim and makes the boy come to the conclusion that, in the final analysis, it is one’s moral caliber and not class of birth that determines one’s status in life.

The Middle Path

Those days thousands upon thousands of wandering sophists, known as Parivrajaka, roamed the country. May of them indulged in self-torture as the path to their salvation from sorrow and Samsara. Before he came up with his own solutions for the Dukkha (sorrow, misery) in the world, the Buddha tried, and then discarded severe self-denial and self-torture as the path of enlightenment. He disliked decadent Brahmanism on the one hand and rigorous self-torture on the other. So he developed the doctrine of the Middle Path -moderation in everything. He declared that after 49 days of incessant contemplation under a tree at Bodhgaya, present day Bihar, he became enlightened, and thus became the Buddha -the Enlightened One. What he discovered was one hundred percent rational. All other nonsense we hear about Buddhism was grafted on to this teaching by various vested interests, which infiltrated his organization like a bunch of leeches in the course of several centuries. Any organization, however great its original goals might be, will be corrupted sooner or later by less noble-minded people.

The Core Message Of The Buddha

After his enlightenment the Buddha declared:

Samyutta Nikaya: Rohitasutta: In this very one-fathom-long body along with its perceptions and thoughts, do I proclaim the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world, and the path leading to the cessation of the world.

When the Buddha said “world” he was referring to the “miserable world” he lived in.

What he said were simple Truths: 1. Dukkha -sorrow pervades this world. 2. The cause of Dukkha is desire and attachment to sense objects (people, money, power, title, heaven, etc.) 3. The goal in life should be cessation of Dukkha. 4. This can be achieved by the Eightfold Path, which has to do with all the functions of the mind:

1. Right Understanding. 2. Right Thoughts. 3. Right Speech. 4. Right Action. 5. Right Livelihood. 6. Right Effort. 7. Right Mindfulness, and 8. Right Concentration.

It does not take a psychiatrist or for that matter a rocket scientist to recognize the truths in these statements. Indeed, accepting the reality of the above statements and diligently following the Middle Path would certainly alleviate much stress and consequent Dukkha in this world. The Buddha did not ask anyone to give up his family and become a Bhikku, the begging monk. The order of monks, Sangha, was developed to spread the rational message of the Buddha to the irrational people living in the Dukkha-stricken Brahmanic world.

Ashoka, The First Great Patron

The earliest authenticated teachings of the Buddha could be found in the Rock Edicts of Ashoka the Great, which were carved around 250 B. C. By then, Buddhism had superseded Brahmanism and firmly established itself as the Dharma of north India. Ashoka embraced Buddhism completely and became its greatest champion.

Minor Rock Edict: Piyadasi, King of Magadha, saluting the Sangha and wishing them good health and happiness, speaks thus: You know, reverend sirs, how great my faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha is. Whatever, revered sirs, has been spoken by Lord Buddha, all that is well-spoken. I consider it proper, reverend sirs, to advice on how good should last long.

Note in the above Edict the three fundamental utterances of Buddhists: Buddham Sharanam Gacchami, Dharmam Sharanam Gacchami, Sangam Sharanam Gacchami (I surrender to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha).

Ashoka’s edicts reflect the core message of the Buddha:

Girnar version (257 B. C.): I have also ordered my sons and sons of other queens to distribute gifts so that noble deeds of Dhamma and the practice of Dhamma may be promoted. And noble deeds of Dhamma and practice of Dhamma consist of having kindness, generosity, truthfulness, purity, gentleness and good increase (prosperity) among people.

This Dharma did not need gods, rituals, Yajnas, and animal sacrifices. All this Dharma asked was for people to behave in an ethical and virtuous ways. The bottom line was: You don’t need a god to be good.

Practicality Of The Middle Path

In contrast to Jainism’s extreme opposition to violence to animals, the Buddha took a moderate stand on this issue. In keeping with the practicality of the Middle Path, while the Buddha condemned sacrificing animals in Yajna, he did not forbid Bhikkus from eating meat as long as the animal was not killed specifically to feed the Bhikkus. When an ardent follower gently confronted the Buddha about his duplicity in this matter, he replied:

Majjhima Nikāya 55 [I 368-371]: The Buddha replied: “Jivaka, those who speak thus, do not truthfully speak about what has been said or done by me, but misrepresent me with what is untrue and quite contrary to the actual facts…

Jivaka, I say there are three occasions in which meat should not be eaten: when it is seen, heard or suspected that the living being has been killed for sake of a Bhikku. I say: Meat should not be eaten on these three occasions. I say that there are three occasions in which meat may be eaten: when it is not seen, not heard, and not suspected, that the living being has been killed for the sake of the Bhikku, I say: Meat may be eaten on these three occasions.

Legend has it that the Buddha died at age eighty after choking on a piece of pork meat. Perhaps this legend was developed by pork-eating monks to justify eating pork till their last breath.

Karma, Reincarnation And Nirvana

The most irrational parts of Buddhism are these three concepts, which I doubt very much whether the Buddha really believed in them. Whereas Karma and Samsara were pure Brahmanic concepts, Nirvana was the Upanishadic concept. Buddha did not believe in Brahman, the all-pervading Universal Spirit, nor Atman, Its essence in the body of man. Buddhism considered Nirvana as the extinction of “the fire of lust, hatred, delusion, birth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair, which sets the whole miserable world on the fire of Dukkha.” This was equivalent to the Upanishadic steady state of mind known as Sthithaprajnya. Buddhism believed that the Buddha had many incarnations as Bodhisattva (a wise person) before he was finally born as the Buddha. This, I believe, is simply the production of Brahmins who infiltrated Buddhism in droves and switched into yellow robes after discarding their saffron rags.

buddha

Gandhara Buddha (4-5th c), from what is now Pakistan

Buddhism In Modern India

There are many causes of demise of Buddhism in India: The rise of Brahmanism due to the sleight of hand of Shankaracharya; patronage of Brahmanism by various petty-minded kings; the rise of Islamic kingdoms; corruption of Buddhism to the extent that it was not much different from decadent Brahmanism, so on and so forth. With Buddhism’s decline, mindless and ritual-obsessed Brahmanism gained ascendance. Now Brahmins took charge of the newly evolving Hinduism and reinstated their rituals in disguise. With superbly refined brainwashing techniques, which even pope and Cardinals of Catholicism might envy, Brahmins took control of the minds of naïve masses, and created mind-boggling array of gods, and eye-popping rituals, festivals and other shenanigans. By deliberately misinterpreting the Upanishadic and Bhagavata revolutionary shlokas in the Bhagavad Gita, they reinstated Varna Dharma, promoted Jati Dharma and Untouchability. Untold injustice was done to millions of people whom they condemned to life of servitude, and degradation worse than slavery.

Ambedkar And Revival Of Buddhism In Modern India

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution, was a lawyer, scholar, author, historian, anthropologist, and to Brahmanism an Untouchable. It took the Brahmin dominated Indian government 34 years after his death in 1956 to honor this great man with Bharata Ratna, the highest civilian award of India. In the course of his research, he found out that in the ancient times Brahmins had declared his clan as Untouchables because they were Buddhists, and had forced them to live outside the village limits as Mahars. In ancient India, as in modern India, this practice was a matter of course. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism and converted a large number of Untouchable to that faith. He wrote a book on Buddhism titled The Buddha and His Dharma. There has been no great leader such has Ambedkar since his death to guide the so-called Untouchables, currently known as Dalits, to assert themselves as equal citizens in a democracy. A large number of them have become obsessed with raising their social status by climbing the hierarchical ladder set up for them by clever Brahmanic loyalists: Performing ever more grandiose Yajnas and other mindless rituals in evermore ostentatious temples dedicated to countless gods and goddesses dotting the length and breadth of India.

Conclusion

In the course of their revolutions in the Bhagavad Gita to overthrow Brahmanism, Upanishadists and Bhagavatas incorporated the fundamental principles of Jainism, Buddhism, and other assorted heterodox Dharmas. Bhagavatas downgraded all aspects of Brahmanism (11:48, 53); absorbed all Brahmanic icons into Lord Krishna (11:21-22); and even got rid of Brahman of the Upanishads (11:18), and appointed Lord Krishna in his place as the Supreme Lord full of wonderful attributes (11:3). They declared that Lord Krishna was Atman within the heart of man (15:15). They created a broad-based Dharma standing on the doctrine of Lord Krishna as the very embodiment of Dharma (14:27). They declared that worshiping Lord Krishna by Bhaktiyoga would enable one to transcend the doctrine of the Gunas (7:14) and Karma (9:28), and eliminate the three evils caused by them. Having done all this they made Lord Krishna thunder His Ultimate Shloka in the Bhagavad Gita:

18:66: Abandon all Dharma and surrender unto Me alone. I shall deliver you from all sins; do not grieve.

In this Ultimate Shloka of the Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavatas attempted to unify all the disparate heterodox Dharmas of India, which had arisen in revolt against decadent Brahmanism, under one umbrella. They exhorted everyone to abandon all other Dharmas such as Brahmanism and all its sub-Dharmas such as Varna Dharma and Jati Dharma; Upanishadic Dharma, Buddha Dharma, Jaina Dharma, Ajivika Dharma, etc. Indeed, this was a desperate attempt by the Bhagavatas to rescue Indian society from the death-grip of Brahmanism.

Unfortunately, Bhagavatas, like all other opponents of Brahmanism vastly underestimated the weed-like sustaining power of Brahmanism. Brahmins infiltrated Bhagavatism, confiscated the Bhagavad Gita, hyper-edited the text, rewrote shlokas, scrambled chapters and destroyed its revolutionary spirit. They appointed Vishnu, a minor Vedic deity who fought along side Indra against the hated Dasyus as the Supreme Lord, and reduced Krishna as his 8th Avatara. Now Krishna stood side by side with various animals -Fish, a Tortoise, a Pig, a Half Lion/Half-Man, a Midget, a Kshatriya-hating Brahmin, and a meek-mannered Prince. They declared the Buddha as the ninth Avatara of Vishnu born to mislead heretics to hell.

Now, go and read the voluminous nonsensical interpretations of the above shloka in commentaries written by Brahmanic Acharyas such as Shankaracharya, Madhvacharya, Ramanujacharya, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Paramahamsa Yogananda, or any other so-called Acharya.

This concludes the series on Heretics, Rebels, Reformers and Revolutionaries of ancient India. Thank you!

This post was written by:

- who has written 38 posts on Nirmukta.

Dr. Prabhakar Kamath, is a psychiatrist currently practicing in the U.S. He is the author of Servants, Not Masters: A Guide for Consumer Activists in India (1987) and Is Your Balloon About To Pop?: Owner’s Manual for the Stressed Mind. Links to all articles in Dr. Kamath's earlier series on Heretics, Rebels, Reformers and Revolutionaries can be found here. Dr. Kamath' series on The Truth About The Bhagavad Gita can be found here.

42 Comments

  • (To the author of the article, Mr. Prabhakar Kamath)

    Respected Sir,
    As a fairly rational and unbiased observer (if I can claim myself so – I am disenchanted with most religions, but at the same time I feel all these religions have some good aspects that make sense from a rational or humane perspective), I agree with Mr.Venkata Rao, Mr.Adarsh and a few others who have who have pointed out that your article does not provide sufficient proof for you claim that Buddha was a complete rationalist and that it is Hinduism (or any other religion for that matter) that corrupted Buddhism and brought in irrational (or “supernatural”/”beyond cognition”) concepts into Buddhism.

    1. Even the most objectively written books that I have come across on ancient Indian history indicate that Buddha talked about concepts like rebirth, karma etc. and never rejected them.

    2. Given that Buddhism spread fairly quickly to SriLanka some east/south-east Asian countries which were not under the hold of Vedic Hinduism, it is difficult to believe that those who embraced Buddhism there would have got influenced subsequently by Hindus or that orthodox Hindus would have had sufficient time to irrationalize Buddhism to such an extent before it spread to those countries.

    3. Why would orthodox Hindus convert to Buddhism just for the sake of corrupting it, given that several non-converts were actively involved in debating with Buddhists and also trying their best to build up a strong case for themselves by delving deep into metaphysical concepts expoused in some of their own scriptures?

    4. Jainism arose as a prominent religion at the same time as Buddhism and it too has concepts like rebirth, karma etc. Jainism is supposed to have been only formalized by Mahaveer while having more ancient roots, in some school of ascetic/Shramanic tradition. Why hasn’t Jainism deviated much from the original preachings of Mahaveer while Buddhism has? I still hear about Jain monks adhering to extreme levels of austerity, just like ancient Jain monks did. I am not talking about layman/non-ascetic Jains here, but about those who are deeply involved in their religion.

    5. Given that Buddha too is believed to have interacted with and/or followed various ascetics for a substantial period of time before he came up with his own views, it is quite likely that he borrowed some ideas of theirs which he found meaningful to him while rejecting those which didn’t answer his doubts. Given the lack sufficient number of reliable, objectively-written and well-preserved historical documents, it would be safer to state that Buddha was a “semi-rationalist” or a philosophical revolutionary of his times. Claiming that Buddha was a complete rationalist (by current day standards) with little or no evidence to substantiate it would only weaken your arguments in favour of the rational aspects of Buddha. At the same time, I do feel that Buddhist philosophy (at least to the extent I know of it) is more rational than the philosophies of several other religions of today.

    6. Btw, why did Buddha reject Purana Kashyapa’s philosophy? Te latter is stated to have strongly opposed rebirth, karma etc., although his preachings were worded in a such way that they suggested that there is absolutely no effect of any action, good or evil, even in one’s own “current” life, which we know is incorrect. Going by the same line of reasoning as yours, one can argue that that Kashyapa’s was only referring to karma in the context of afterlife and that his teachings were misconstrued or corrupted. If so, Purana Kashyapa seems to be a stronger rationalist than Buddha.

  • May I ask What does “Rational” mean?
    Looking at these comments, it seems there are multiple notions of “rational” that are incompatible with each other.
    Is there widely accepted, well defined notion of “rational”?
    If so, what is it?
    If not, how can we use such a vague and tenuous notion to determine the truth or falsity of a proposition?

  • Ive followed Buddhism for a few months before deciding to leave the religion for Good.

    My experience:-
    Rational things –

    No God
    No Soul
    No rites, rituals, other nonsense

    Irrational things:-
    The “Middle path” is a farce. It means giving up all pleasures of the world, giving up all desires of the world . Basically it becomes literally impossible to live in the “world” unless you run away like Buddha to a forest where you can live the “Buddhist Path”.

    Buddha spoke about Rebirth and heaven and hell.

  • No matter what you say whether the man was Rational or not it is clear that he was influential in the history of India.

    When he came to the scene he declared:
    1. There was no God
    2. There was no Soul
    3. He called the Vedas as bunch of useless texts.
    4. He called the caste system as filthy and ridiculed the supremacy of the Brahmin caste.
    5. He said that it was useless to do Rites and Rituals even praying.

    No matter what you say points 1-5 shook the Earth from the Brahmin caste.

    They were ripped apart at their core.

    However his philosophy disappeared from India and Brahmins and their religion became predominant is another story….And not the mention the disgusting caste system which has destroyed India for 3000 years and continues to leave 90% of Hindus in deep poverty.

    Wow, Dosent India need another Buddha right now or not?.

  • His Law of Karma was more a ethical guide . Whether it is true or not, Its not wrong to implement it in everyday life.

    And his meditation techniques have been researched by scientists and have been proven to help improve mind.

    Lets not brood our heads about whether he was rational or not. Lets also not forget that his denial of God, Soul, uselessness of rites and rituals were rational.

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